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  1. The Triassic Katberg Formation has played a central role in interpreting the end-Permian ecosystem crisis, as part of a hypothesis of aridification, vegetation loss, and sediment release in continental settings. We use drone images of an inaccessible cliff near Bethulie to investigate the Swartberg member, a 45 m thick braided-fluvial body, describing remote outcrop facies to identify geomorphic units and using spatial analysis to estimate their proportions in 2D sections. Here the Swartberg member comprises three channel belts within shallow valleys, the lowermost of which is ~500 m wide and incised into lacustrine deposits. The component channel bodies consist mainly of trough cross-bedded sand sheets (48%) and channel-scour fills (28%). Recognizable bars (15%) comprise unit bars with high-angle slipfaces and mounded bar cores (components of mid-channel compound bars), bars built around vegetation, and bank-attached bars in discrete, probably low-sinuosity conduits. Abandoned channels constitute 8% and 16% of flow-parallel and -transverse sections, respectively. When corrected for compaction, the average thalweg depth of the larger channels is 3.9 m, with an average bankfull width of 84 m, scaling broadly with the relief of the bars and comparable in scale to the Platte and South Saskatchewan rivers of North America. The fluvial style implies perennial but seasonably variable flow in a vegetated landscape with a humid paleoclimate. The northward paleoflow accords with regional paleoflow patterns and deposition on a megafan sourced in the Cape Fold Belt, where the Swartberg member represents the avulsion of a major transverse-flowing river. U-Pb dating of in situ and reworked pedogenic carbonate nodules from below the base of the Swartberg member yielded Anisian to Ladinian ages (Middle Triassic), younger than the previously assumed Early Triassic age and implying that considerable gaps in time exist within the succession. An assessment of the interval spanning the lower to mid Katberg Formation is needed to reevaluate the inferred unidirectional trend in fluvial style, aridification, and fossil distributions in this condensed, disjunct succession.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 18, 2024
  2. null (Ed.)